After straying off course since his return to racing in August, Dan Borislow's Toccet will attempt to get back on track when he faces nine opponents in Saturday's $50,000, 1 1/16-mile Hail Emperor Stakes at Laurel.
Jorge Chavez, who piloted Toccet to all his big wins last year, will be back in the saddle after missing the last two races.
At two, Toccet was a winning machine, capturing the grade I Champagne Stakes and Hollywood Futurity, grade II Remsen Stakes, and grade III Laurel Futurity. The only blemish on his stakes resume came in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) when he was forced to break from the disastrous 13 post. You have to go back to Chief's Crown in 1984 to find a 2-year-old colt who won grade I stakes on both coasts.
After being sent to Gulfstream Park to prepare for the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), Toccet was sidelined with what was described as a remodeling of the right hind cannon bone. He returned with a victory in the Widener Stakes at Philadelphia Park, a race basically written for him, but he caught a deep, sloppy track 13 days later in the Pennsylvania Derby and finished fifth. Shipped to Santa Anita for the Goodwood Breeders' Cup (gr. II), he fought jockey Julie Krone all the way down the backstretch before fading to eighth. At first, it was decided to ship back East for the 7 1/2-furlong Ack Ack Stakes at Churchill Downs, but Borislow and trainer John Scanlan elected to keep him in California for the Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). Making his first start on turf and first start farther than 1 1/8 miles, Toccet pressed the early pace, then dropped back, finishing eighth again.
Sent back home to Laurel, he turned in a bullet half-mile work in :46, indicating he has retained his sharpness and enthusiasm. Borislow hopes the Hail Emperor will act as a springboard to a successful 4-year-old campaign, after which Toccet will be retired to Lane's End Farm near Versailles, Ky.
"I'm hoping for a pretty convincing win, so we'll know what our next step will be," Borislow said. "If he runs big, we'll go back to graded stakes."
Borislow said the only equipment change that will be made will be switching to three-quarter blinkers with no holes, replacing the cheater blinkers (with holes) the colt used to wear.
"He wore them for his work and was a lot more focused," Borislow said. "He's never worked like that before. TVG just sent me a DVD they made up of Toccet's races, and I've been watching them to try and find out what his problem has been. On thing is, he doesn't want to be restrained. And in his victories last year you can see him cock his head as he moves up alongside a horse. It's like he stares them down until he runs by them."
In the Hail Emperor, Toccet will be facing several hard-knocking older horses, several with good stakes credentials. Among his main rivals will be Last Intention, part of a three-horse Michael Gill entry; Jorgie Stover, third in the Maryland Million Classic and winner of the Maryland Million Sprint in 2001; and the hard-hitting Mr. O'Brien and Jim Thirds Bolero.
"It's the quantity that bothers me the most," Borislow said. "And it looks like there's a lot of speed in there, if we want to send Toccet from the two post. It looks like we're going to have our work cut out for us."